[star rating = 4/5]
Happy Hour is the brainchild of Cristian Ceresoli, whose hit play La Merda premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2012. Now he is back to debut another new work, directed by Simon Boberg, exploring the role played by performative happiness in propping up fascism.
Silvia Gallerano and Stefano Cenci play two children swept up in the rise of a brutal, bewildering fascist regime. They watch as neighbours are led away in the middle of the night, laugh at the spectacle of public executions and witness their parents’ struggle to survive under a regime which demands perfection.
In this dystopian world citizens must prove themselves talented or beautiful enough if they want to take part in society. Otherwise they are thrown in trucks, have their body shaved, and made to attend a daily dance party where they are beaten for not appearing happy enough.
To avoid this fate citizens become obsessed with being perfect and appearing happy and we see this gradually becoming a normal part of the children’s daily lives. The children take time away from petty sibling rivalries to practice sports or ballet, unaware that the drive for perfection will take them to some very dark places.
Perhaps the best way to describe Happy Hour is like a kind of late-1970s avant garde fever dream. It’s the tunnel scene in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory stretched to an hour and fifteen minutes. The soundtrack by Stefano Piro alone should be classed as nightmare fuel. It’s completely crazy and perhaps more than a little pretentious.
Gallerano and Cenci go all out in their depiction of grotesque childish obliviousness mixed with malice. Their features are almost clownishly stretched and distorted, capering around the small raised staging like imps, they conjure a picture of this hellish dystopia without the need for props or costumes. Gallerano is particularly notable for creating a character who is girlish and naive but also curiously shark-like; a potential victim and a potential predator.
The play is an international co-production with Teater Grob and FKP, Richard Jorden Productions, and Teatro Metastasio. Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the inexplicably jumbled mix of humour, nihilism and intense theatricality.
Although it does take a little while to get going, once it does you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a parallel universe, one that leaves you wondering “what did I just see?”